Thirteen isn’t really that unlucky of a number for Rafael Nadal…
The 27-year-old Spanish tennis star defeated Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open men’s final 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to win the 13th Grand Slam title of his career and his second U.S. Open title.
Nadal’s victory caps a remarkable comeback season. He’s won 60 of his 63 matches since returning from a seven-month hiatus forced by the chronic tendinitis in his knees.
Against Djokovic, regarded as the sport’s speediest retriever, Nadal proved the fitter man, pummeling the Serb with heavy topspin forehands, crafty backhand slices and rock-steady serves to win the championship.
“Probably nobody brings my game to the limit like Novak,” said Nadal, who fell on his back in relief when Djokovic’s final forehand plowed into the net to end the match, then jogged to the net to embrace his longtime rival.
With the triumph, Nadal moves into third on the list of all-time major titlists, behind Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14), and cemented his status as the most relentless competitor in tennis.
He also collected $3.6 million for his effort, which includes a $1 million bonus for dominating the North American hard-court season that feeds into the season’s final major.
Monday’s match was the 37th between Nadal and Djokovic and their third in a U.S. Open final. Nadal won the title in 2010; Djokovic exacted revenge in 2011.
Nadal had steamrolled into the match, compiling a 21-0 mark on hardcourts this season. He had lost his serve only once all tournament and conceded only one set.
But he hadn’t faced a challenger like Djokovic, the game’s best defender and a gutsy battler with a go-for-broke approach to big points.
While fans relished the matchup of the world’s No. 1 and 2 players, it was a fight both players knew would drain their last breath. Their last clash in a major, three months ago in the French Open’s semifinals, was a 4 hour, 37-minute classic that Nadal won 9-7 in the fifth set. And they staged the longest Grand Slam final in history, a 5 hour, 53-minute standoff for the 2012 Australian Open title that Djokovic claimed.
Monday’s reprise drew glitterati from around the globe, including Queen Sofia of Spain, famed Scottish actor Sean Connery and soccer legend David Beckham. But it was the 24,000-plus everyday ticket-holders who made Arthur Ashe Stadium crackle with electricity, screaming “Vamos Rafa!” and chanting “No-le! No-le!” at every shift of momentum.
In the end, Nadal outlasted Djokovic in a match that lasted 3 hours 21 minutes.
Afterward, he called it the most emotional match of his career.